Jahr 2007



Rolling Stone


April 2007


Zero's Heros



 Text: David Kushner




 42 Entertainment and the mystery surrounding Nine Inch Nails‘ Year Zero

At first it seems like any other YouTube video. Some one‘s pointing the camera out a car window as a desert land scape rolls by. But then thunder crashes, and what appears to be a giant hand made of black smoke reaches down from the sky.

The only clue to the clip‘s provenance is a road sign that flashes past so quickly you have to hit PAUSE to make it out: I AM TRYING TO BELIEVE. There‘s no music, no credits. Nothing to indicate that it is, in fact, a teaser for Nine Inch Nails‘ new album, Year Zero. The clip, and dozens of other online clues, form the latest salvo in a burgeoning new style of promo called alternate-reality gaming (ARG). Part scavenger hunt, part online game, these elaborate puzzles are created by a clandestine startup called 42 Entertainment. The goal: to blend fiction and reality in ways that engage a new generation of fans.

Just don‘t call it marketing. “The term ‘marketing‘ sure is a frustrating one for me,“ NIN mastermind Trent Reznor recently blogged. (He and reps from 42 Entertainment declined to be interviewed.) “What you are now starting to experience is ‘Year Zero,“ Reznor wrote. “It‘s not some kind of gimmick to get you to buy a record - it is the art form. . . and we‘re just getting started.“

Based in Pasadena, California, and the Bay Area, 42 Entertainment sports an all- star team of marketing and gaming vets whose experience runs from Procter & Gamble product launches to designing rides for Disneyland. ARG, they believe, is the next frontier - and their mindbending online campaigns for the likes of Dream Works, Microsoft and Disney are often more compelling than the products being pushed (see below).

“The eighteen-to-thirty-five-year-old demo has grownup in a marketing-saturated environment and has developed a sophisticated set of tools for avoiding the vast majority of marketing messages,“ Jordan Weisman, 42‘s co-founder, has said. “As a rule of thumb, the bigger the neon sign, the faster they‘ll run the other way. So the premise here was, instead of shouting, go the opposite way and whisper.“

Year Zero‘s strange life started in February, when a fan noticed that his NIN concert shirt had the words I AM TRYING TO BELIEVE encoded on the back. A quick Googling revealed a “Website of the same name. The site warns of Parepin, a drug put into the water supply by the feds that may be causing you to see stuff like a giant hand descending from the sky (photos included). E-mail the Webmaster and you get an auto response in which he inexplicably changes tune: “It is now clear to me that Parepin is a completely safe and effective agent. I‘m drinking the water. So should you.“

Cryptic new Web sites keep popping up online, elaborating on the conspiracy. There are phone numbers to dial, wiretap transcripts to decipher. At NIN concerts in Portugal and England, fans found computer memory sticks in bathroom stalls containing Year Zero songs. The clues are coming at such a rate that there‘s a Wikipedia entry and forums of NIN nerds teaming up to keep track.

“It engages fans to the point where they can actually feel like they are an important part of the marketing of the album,“ says Mike Swindley, the twenty-four year-old administrator of the NIN fan site Echoing the Sound. “It makes me feel like I‘m fifteen again.“

For Reznor, a lifelong gamer, that‘s the idea. As a kid, he drew early inspiration from video games, once going so far as to pry off the back of an Asteroids machine just to peer inside. Since then, he composed the soundtrack for the game Quake and stopped recording The Fragile to play Halo upon its release. “It put me back a few days,“ he said at the time. “But what‘s a few days when there‘s something important to do?“

Some pioneers warn that ARG can get too geeky for its own good. “The most difficult thing is striking the balance between accessibility and making it too complicated,“ says Mike Benson, executive vice president of marketing for ABC, which ran the Lost Experience online game to promote its hit show last year.

“ARG law has always been to not let anybody know you‘re doing ARG,“ says Jesse Alexander, co-executive producer of NBC’s Heroes, which is currently developing a game. “I think that keeps a lot of people from playing. So we are actively trying to lower the barrier of entry [by] being open about what we‘re doing - to get more than the usual D&D-type guy involved.“

With the Year Zero buzz growing, Reznor has proved that harnessing the power of music geeks may be victory enough.




2001 The Beast

A murder mystery promo for Steven Spielberg s AI that fans unraveled via websites, emails and faxes the Beast put 42- and ARG -on the map.


2004 I  love Bees

The ARG for Halo 2 grew into a radio drama that played out over pay phones across the country; participants would record the calls then stitch them together to hear a teaser for the game.

2006 Dead Man’s Tale


The ARG for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 used Windows Live Messenger to throw players into a dialogue with the film’s Billy Bones. As you IM’d puzzles and games were unleashed.


2007 Vanishing Point

An ad on the Internet Explorer blog led nerds on a cross country bunt and helped promote Microsoft ‘s Vista OS. The clues appeared everywhere - from skywritten ads to the Bellagio fountains in Vegas.